Basic rights that are inalienable for Israeli kids are at best a privilege for Palestinian kids in the OPT. Testimonies of arrested Palestinian children shed light on the Israeli army’s worrisome practices.
By Fady Khoury
On the back of the 47th anniversary of the Israeli occupation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), one aspect that is worth shedding the light onto is the Palestinian children arrests by the Israeli armed forces. They are a routine occurrence and are filled with human rights violations throughout their different stages. The manner in which these arrests are executed and what occurs inside the interrogation rooms, however, is not properly exposed. Basic rights that are guaranteed to every suspect inside Israel, not to mention the protections that are specifically tailored for child suspects, are not accorded to Palestinian children who find themselves detained and interrogated by the Israeli occupation agents in the OPT.
DCI-Palestine (Defense for Children International – Palestine Section) gathered in 2013 testimonies from Palestinian children who were arrested by the Israeli military and studied 107 arrests made in the OPT. From these testimonies arose a glaring and shocking pattern of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, which include: physical and mental abuse; verbal and physical violence; sexual harassment; threats of violence, and; humiliation. Sometimes these practices are aimed at getting confessions from these children and at times, they do not serve any apparent purpose, and are done for their own sake.
Adalah took 21 of these 107 arrests and examined in depth the testimonies that were taken from the 16- to 17-year-old children. The hardships that Palestinian children face begin with the arrest itself. At this point the child is completely under the mercy of the arresting soldiers. Whereas in most cases, the children’s testimonies include a similar account of the practices applied in the interrogation room, they differ in their depiction of the arrests, which entail an array of human rights infringements, but are still equally disturbing.
Generally, the arrest is carried out by dozens of soldiers in the middle of the night. Once the minor is identified, plastic handcuffs are placed on his hands, he is blindfolded and then led on foot to a military vehicle that is hundreds of meters away.
In some cases, the soldiers broke through the front door of the house before the family had a chance to open it. One child was kicked by a soldier while sleeping and was handcuffed for half a day, and as a result, his semi-amputated finger was infected and he had to undergo a surgical procedure that resulted in full amputation. Another child was picked up from his bed while sleeping and immediately handcuffed. Any attempt by the parents of these children to talk with the soldiers triggered violence toward the residents of the house.
In one testimony, the child stated that after he was identified at the entrance of his home, one soldier pulled him violently and pushed him against an outside wall from which a metal faucet stuck out and hurt his back. He then screamed in pain, which led three soldiers to brutally beat him. Later on, he was brought into the living room and his family was put in another room. Another four arrested Palestinian children were brought in to watch while he was harshly beaten to coerce him to confess to his and the other four children’s involvement in throwing stones. After he confessed, which later he recanted, he was led to the military vehicle. He was thrown by the soldiers, who had kicked and beaten him using their rifle butts all the way.
In the case of another child, upon his arrival to the detention center in Hawara Camp, the soldiers seated him on the ground and began taking pictures of him with their smart-phones (similar to past incidents, a few of which were reported on +972mag here and here). Another child reported that after arriving to the detention center he was put in a big container. The soldier who was in charge of guarding him kicked him, took photos of him and sent them to a female with whom he talked on his phone.
Another kid, who even after three weeks under arrest still had visible handcuffs wounds on his wrists, described in his testimony the ill-treatment he endured, which entailed physical and verbal abuse from the soldiers, who shoved and knocked him down for no reason. One soldier grabbed his neck in a chokehold and during the drive from where the arrest took place to the detention center, which took about an hour and half. He was ordered to bury his head between his knees which according to him was very painful. Every time he would attempt to adjust his sitting on the floor of the military vehicle, the soldier sitting next to him would shout at him, push him and shove his head back violently between his legs. Furthermore, he reports that once they arrived at the detention center, the soldiers led him on food for approximately 200 meters, during which time they would trip him and pick him up forcefully, scream in his ears for no reason and one soldier even “farted in [… his] face.”
After the arrest, at the investigation stage, the testimonies show a worrisome pattern, which includes using improper interrogation methods that were deemed illegal in a 1999 Israeli Supreme Court ruling. Such methods include the Shabach position, in which the detainee is placed on a low metal chair while his arms are tightly handcuffed behind him in an unnatural and contorted way so that they had to support his weight. Others include the deprivation of toilet access, food and water, threats of sexual violence and infliction of harm to family members, verbal violence and even actual physical violence.
This is all in addition to the poor conditions in which the detained children are held. They are often held in solitary confinement for a period of several days to several weeks, in very small cells that include two small air ducts, a floor mattress and toilet, which badly smell, rough walls on which one is unable to lean, and a yellow light that hurts the eyes and never goes off. During this time, the child does not see the light of day, is not accompanied by his parents, who are often not informed during the arrest what the charges are and where their son is being taken, and is not allowed to meet with a lawyer.
All these practices are aimed at forcing a confession out of the child. It is worth mentioning that the detained children are not informed of their right to remain silent or to consult with an attorney. In one case, when a child asked to see a lawyer, he was told, “[that] is not allowed.”
The accounts that the Palestinian children provided of their arrests, and of which I mentioned only a few, leave the reader appalled and terrified. These kids endure what international law refers to as Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading treatment. On the other hand, Israeli children who are suspected of committing criminal acts are provided with an array of protections according to international standards adopted in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the basis of which is the child’s best interest.
Israeli children are informed of their legal rights: the right to remain silent, the right to consult with an attorney and that an attorney be informed of their interrogation. Every minor-suspect in Israel is entitled to have his/her parents be informed of the arrest, and have their parents present during their interrogation. Furthermore, the law in Israel prohibits interrogating children during nighttime and no child is to be handcuffed in the public domain during their arrest. Additionally, the child is granted visits of first degree family members and has the right to talk to them via phone on a regular basis. In no circumstances is it allowed to expose detained children to physical or verbal violence and threats as means of forcing confessions. It also goes without saying that the Shabach position is not to be used under any justification.
Those rights that are inalienable for Israeli kids are at best a privilege for Palestinian kids in the OPT.
Fady Khoury is an attorney at Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.